White Belt Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Private Sessions #6: Ken Primola



Ken Primola


Our guest for the sixth installment of White Belt Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Private Sessions is the most dominant BJJ internet presence that I can think of, Ken Primola! Ken is the man that operates all of our favorite blogs; I Love BJJNo Gi Grappling and BJJimmersion.com.

Ken Primola, a Gracie Jiu Jitsu Black Belt, has been grappling for over 20 years. Primola started wrestling when he was 12, finishing his academic sports career earning a Division I varsity letter at East Stroudsburg University. After college, Primola concentrated his athlete activity on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, earning his Black Belt in 2009. The list of whom he has studied under reads like a Who’s Who of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and wrestling.




Needless to say, it gives us tremendous pleasure to bring you, Ken Primola.


WBBJJ: What brought you to BJJ?

Ken: I would say it was a guy who kept asking me to train in the late 90s. But in all reality, when I look back, it was my state of mind that made me finally agree. I was in a transitional phase of life from college to law school and I really needed it. It was therapeutic and the man I learned it from was a patient teacher who taught me “the way”, very smooth, cerebral, and technical.


WBBJJ: In your experience what should lower belts do more of/less of?

Ken: I think they should enjoy it more and don’t compare yourself with anyone. I wouldn’t get too frustrated. And how do you not get frustrated, you fix your problems as they occur or directly thereafter. The only problem with that is the more you know the more you don’t know. So, I guess it’s being comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s called living. And being a white belt is an amazing time in one’s life. I often miss those days, where I was being tapped at will. Now I have to search for difficulties. I still love it though because I love learning. That’s the loyalty part right there, loyalty to learning is key.


WBBJJ: If you could go back in time and give “white belt” Ken Primola guidance, what advice would you give the “white belt you”?

Ken: I wouldn’t focus so much on winning. I was bred from a competitive sport, wrestling, and the only thing that mattered was competition. I would focus more on being a martial artist and trying to not only explore the physical, but the mental and emotional. Understand why you thought what you thought at that moment of stress, not just technically but psychologically. Once you learn one thing well, you can learn anything, it’s the process that you need to focus on. That applies to everything in life you desire.


WBBJJ: For you what’s been the hardest part of the journey?

Ken: I think the hardest part is to really let go of anyone else’s desires for you and notions of you but your own. Sometimes we get caught up with everyone else or what’s the latest and greatest shiny new move and we lose our own personal way of Jiu Jitsu. Or I thought what I am supposed to be in relation to everyone else at this or that belt level. Finding your true self in regard to connecting the physical and emotional is difficult, but being like everyone else is easy.


WBBJJ: In tough times what had helped you get through and allowed you to persevere?

Ken: My love of learning and I have no quit inside of me once I go after something. I realize it’s not easy and not always fun. That’s just a part of the game. You gotta have self-respect. There were days I didn’t want to be there, man, so many days, so many hard personal times. But I love people, helping, and learning. I needed it. You can either use Jiu Jitsu as therapy or for empowerment, I have used it for both.



WBBJJ: If you weren’t doing this what would you do?

Ken: I’d probably still be a lawyer, with a wife and kids, lol.


WBBJJ: What do you tell someone who says they want to do BJJ and then gives the standard excuses, time, money, etc?

Ken: Honestly, I tell them nothing. I understand you can baby people or try and convince them. I just find when I do that it handicaps the relationship from the get go. I’m probably the wrong person to ask, lol.


WBBJJ: Favorite activity besides BJJ?

Ken: Spending family time and travelling.


WBBJJ: What’s on your iPod?

Ken: I have some techno, some Jay Z, some Eminem, The Cure, lol.


WBBJJ: What was the last movie you watched?

Ken: Man of Steel, with my father. Was awesome because I was with him.


WBBJJ: If you could train with someone living or dead who would that be?

Ken: The first person who taught me. He was a blue belt 15 years ago, probably a brown belt now, so good of a teacher.


WBBJJ: Any final thoughts?

Ken: Have fun and give it love. It will come back to you.




I hope you all enjoyed the interview!

meTony Peranio WBBJJ

(Advice) “We tap for many reasons” by Tony Peranio


“We tap for many reasons”

by Tony Peranio of WBBJJ.com


When you train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu every week, you will eventually encounter issues that will affect your performance on the mat.


Life is a winding road that is constantly hurling obstacles our way, and is constantly forcing us to overcome challenges. Sometimes, you will experience “bad days” in the gym because of this. (Note: This article only pertains to people who train regularly. It does not pertain to grapplers who only train on occasion. Grapplers who train train only occasionally will simply take time off during times of adversity. For those of us addicted to BJJ, the thought of time off is quite simply, an impossibility.)


This is not meant to be a blog about excuses. My father always says, “The only good excuse, is no excuse”. Instead this blog is intended to remind all interested parties, that all of us are individuals, with diverse (and oft times complicated) lives.


There are many elements that factor in to each and every one of our submissions, and each and every one of our daily performances. Listed below are a few things that can affect your performance, and cause you to tap; that have nothing to do with the technique being inflicted upon you, and your ability to escape.




You have a demanding job, or school workload, but you still force yourself to make it to BJJ class. Your coach and your teammates have no idea what your day consisted of before you put on your Gi and stepped onto the mats. You might work in a factory moving heavy objects. Perhaps you were up all night long studying for a difficult test for school. Maybe you just worked back-to-back double shifts trying to make rent. You aren’t going to come into the academy wearing these facts upon your sleeve. You are going to put on your best game face and get at it the best way that you know how. Sometimes however, our hearts and our minds are susceptible to the realities of material existence. I say, kudos to you for making it to class, even though you were already exhausted. At least you showed up.


You have a nagging injury but do not want to be told to “sit out”. If you practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or any martial art, you are bound to encounter bumps and bruises on occasion. The BJJ addict comes to class neck sore, fingers sore, shoulders sore, knee popped, hamstring pulled, ankle blown and turf toe’d. We hope that no one notices. We hope hat we aren’t told to sit out, on the godforsaken sidelines. However, we may tap abnormally fast in certain situations, just so we can continue to play the game.


There are tons of problems that you could be having domestically. I have yet to meet the person who was living a perfect life. People have rough marriages, relationships and sometimes family issues. These bad feeling situations exist to help us to grow and to build character; however they may cause us to have the occasional bad day on the mat.


Sometimes I want to give my gym buddy a chance to land a submission. Sometimes, it is as simple as that. It could be a bright, sunny day. The stars could all be aligned in my favor. I could have just gotten a raise at my job, won the lottery, and found the girl of my dreams. That all being said, I try to offer a give-and-take relationship when rolling with my teammates. If I am double the size of my teammate or massively stronger, I will give them a chance. However, you have to be careful not to give too much of a chance, as to offend your teammate.


Sleep. I think for every ten people that I know, ten of them at some point, have had an issue with sleep. Some are insomniacs. Some work two jobs. Some are taking 15 credits per semester in college. Some live in apartments with noisy neighbors. Most of our healing and recuperation is accomplished while we sleep. Our coaches and teammates have no idea how many hours we slept last night. Instead of resting on our laurels, we get up, and come to BJJ class. Granted we may put up a lackluster performance, but at least we showed up to perform. To look at things positively, on days that we do not offer up our best performances, we gave our teammates that much more of a chance at improving their abilities!


Patience. This is not karate. It takes years, not months, to advance your belt color. So basically, what is the rush? Sometimes I just feel like having a good time. Sometimes I like putting myself in crazy positions and “bad” positions just to see what will happen. I will be dead to the world from rolling for an hour, and faced with the option to roll with a bigger advanced belt, or a smaller white belt. I will pick the bigger, advanced guy every time. He will probably smash and beat me, but again, “Who cares?” If you decide to take Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you had better be in it for the long haul! So be patient and have fun!




Keep in mind, I am just a simple white belt. These philosophies only seem right to me now, as one who is staring up at the summit of a mighty mountain, and does not wish to get burned out. I will show up regularly to BJJ class. I will show up no matter how great or how lousy I feel. If my performance is not guns blazing, kill ’em all, take no prisoners and let God sort ’em out; just understand that there are many issues, that make up the totality of each and every tap that is forced upon me (and other BJJ addicts like me).


I hope you all enjoyed the read!


meTony Peranio WBBJJ

(Advice) “Improving Your Jiu Jitsu” by Bill Jones


“Improving Your Jiu Jitsu”

by Bill Jones (BJJ Black Belt under Pedro Sauer)


One of the most common questions that new Brazilian Jiu Jitsu students ask me is, “What can I do to improve, and continue improving?”


At some point we have all asked ourselves these questions. The answers are always the same, “time on the mats.”


What does this actually mean? I have seen people show up 5 days per week, and demonstrate only a small amount of improvement; while others train only 2 days per week, and show markedly greater improvement. It is not so much about how much time you spend on the mat, but rather what you do with your time on the mat.



Rorion Gracie and Bill Jones


At my academy we have two primary BJJ classes; fundamentals and positional mastery. The fundamentals classes teach the curriculum from white, to blue belt. In these classes you will learn all of the basic submissions, positions, and transitions required to gain skill in the art. This is all set up on a rotating curriculum of 25 classes. The material repeats for 25 classes so that each student is sure to have a solid foundation in utilizing the month’s techniques.


To some advanced white belts (and blue belts), attending these classes can seem a bit redundant. I often watch students come into class and simply pass the time, waiting for it to become time to roll. This is probably the biggest mistake those students could possibly make! That drilling time is critical! That drilling time is where you can hone every small detail of your technique!




On countless occasions blue belts have attempted to submit me, and I escape. This is not because my black belt gives me mystical powers. It is because they are not executing the techniques as they should be done. When they ask me how it was that I escaped, I always explain to them the most basic version of the technique. If they can not understand the slow and basic version, they cannot possibly expect to properly execute the move while rolling full speed. So I shore up their missing details (and there are always some details that could be better) and tell them to work on it.


Many times students will watch the instructor demonstrate a technique in class, and then practice it for a few repetitions. After that, they go back to rolling and never train it again! (Facepalm!)




Stop doing that! When someone shows you something to fix what you are doing wrong, train the heck out of it! While you roll for the rest of the night try focusing on just that move. Do your best to get it right. Learn to do it perfectly every time (because most of us only have limited time to train).


These are a couple of reasons why your buddy, that only trains 2 days per week, is kicking your butt!!! They value their limited training time so it becomes easier to focus on a specific goal. They do not aimlessly wander through training like a sailor lost at sea! They are focused.




Here you come, training many days per week, and you waste most of it because you do not come to class with a game plan.


Here are my two solutions for flaws that I see in many of your games. (1) You need to come to the fundamentals classes even though the techniques may seem repetitious for you, and (2) when you are taught a technique (or shown where you can personally improve) you should immediately try to utilize it while sparring live.


Time on the mat, with a purpose!


Have a game plan 100% of the time, even if your game plan is to take it easy that day!

Now go train! See you on the mats!


This blog post was penned by Bill Jones, a Pedro Sauer Black Belt and friend of Todd Shaffer (WBBJJ.com).


White Belt Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Private Sessions #5: James Puopolo


James Puopolo


James Puopolo has the honor of being the second person promoted to black belt by Rafael Lovato Jr. He is one of the Northwest’s most prolific competitors with dozens of Pan American and World Championship medals, including a gold in 2009 and a NO GI Championship in 2013.

Sit back and enjoy our latest “Private Session”, with James Puopolo.



(Photo courtesy of James Puopolo)


WBBJJ: What brought you to BJJ?

James: I always played sports growing up and was very competitive. I always wanted to play college football, but realized after high school, that I really didn’t love the sport. For a while I tried a lot of different sports and eventually I found BJJ in college.


WBBJJ: What should White Belts do more of? Less of?

James: When I see lower belts train I always advise more drilling and position sparring, and less full rounds. I think it depends on your goals though. If you just love to roll and have fun, then do that.


WBBJJ: If you could go back in time and give White Belt James guidance, what advice would you give?

James: Be more focused on escapes and survival positions. I also would have told myself to start training takedowns a lot sooner. A little focused energy on takedowns can go a long way.



(Photo used with permission of Kenny Jewel of GrappleTv)


WBBJJ: For you, what’s been the hardest part of the journey?

James: The transition from brown belt to black belt. I had a lot of success and the lower belts, but black belt is a whole different animal. The guidance of Rafael, Saulo, and Xande helped tremendously. I owe them a lot.


WBBJJ: In tough times what has helped you get through and allowed you to persevere?

James: For me, I think quitting was never an option, because of my love of Jiu-Jitsu. It always came down to the two options; keep going or quit. Really those are the only two things you can do when you are having difficulties in life. Sometimes changing course is the right thing to do. It’s really important to focus on small victories as well. Everyday focus on things you did better. I think a lot of frustration in BJJ is from expectations, not reality.


WBBJJ: If you weren’t doing this what would you do?

James: I’d be teaching middle school math. I just recently transitioned into BJJ full-time 6 months ago, before that I was teaching math the previous four years. Teaching is a very difficult, but rewarding job for sure. In the end, I knew that I only had a small window to pursue World titles.


WBBJJ: What do you tell someone who says they want to do BJJ and then gives the standard excuses, time, money, etc?

James: I run into this all of the time. We live in America and things are good, so sacrifice isn’t always on the top of the list. BJJ is a sacrifice, but of course the benefits outweigh the cost exponentially. In the end, we have to take responsibility for our own lives. I don’t think I’ve ever run into someone who has started BJJ that wished they hadn’t. Think about if there is anything on Earth you could say that about.


WBBJJ: Favorite activity besides BJJ?

James: Hanging out with my wife, family and friends. There isn’t a whole lot going on out here in Salem, which is good, because all I want to do is train and hang out with the people I love. Training Judo is another passion for sure. I also nerd out a lot on documentaries, podcasts and audiobooks.


WBBJJ: What’s on your IPOD?

James: I can listen to any kind of music really. My favorites are Lupe Fiasco, Jack Johnson, Incubus, The Doors and Jay-Z. The tournament mix is all Lupe Fiasco.


WBBJJ: What was the last movie you watched?

James: I watched a documentary last night called “Food Matters” on Netflix. Super interesting stuff about nutrition and the medical industry. I love documentaries.


WBBJJ: If you could train with someone living or dead who would that be?

James: I would train BJJ with Helio and then finish up with some Judo with Kimura.



(Photo used with permission of BJJpix.com)


WBBJJ: Any final thoughts?

James: Thanks for having me on WBBJJ. Shout out to my wife and family. Shout out to my coaches Rafael Lovato, Xande, Saulo, and Ben Baxter. Shout out to my sponsors Origin (best gis on the market) and Q5 (best supplements on the market). Check out my fan page and look for me on a mat near you real soon!


James Puopolo’s Athlete Page on Facebook



 Interview by Todd Shaffer WBBJJ


(Advice) “Awkward” by Lauren LaCourse



by Lauren LaCourse (Blogger, WBBJJ.com)




I had an interesting conversation with one of my girlfriends last night. Boys, beware. It may be extremely uncomfortable for you, because I’m about to let out some of my “lady brains”. You are probably going to hear a bit more about the thought processes of the girl you roll with, than perhaps you wanted to know.

But let’s be real, you’ve always been curious…

I have a girlfriend from the gym that I train with, and hang out with, on a regular basis. Her name is Caitlin. Having her in the Combat Program of my academy is literally a breath of fresh air. Why? To put it bluntly, girl sweat is much more tolerable than “eau de garcon”. I love you boys, but it’s just nature.

Caitlin and I have been hanging out frequently, and since we share similar interests (MMA and Jiu Jitsu), we talk about the gym and training a lot. The discussion is usually about what we suck at, how we’re going to get better, and stupid mistakes that we’ve recently made. We also compare our various bumps, bruises and injuries (which we love to flaunt, agreeing, that they make us pretty badass).

Finally someone who understands me!

So the other night we decided, after a tough week of training, to go out for dinner. We met up with a couple of Caitlin’s friends, and began our usual chit chat. Naturally it did not take long before conversation about the gym started up (because when you practice Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the gym takes over your life!!) and the discussion progressed. Caitlin’s friends were curious as to what it’s like to “roll” with guys, so the conversation migrated to the opposite sex.

Prior to this conversation, I’ve only had to answer these types of questions from my female family members. The amount of information I disclose about the opposite sex with my family, is pale in comparison to the amount I discuss with other girls my age.

Last night was no different. We went deep, and we went dark.



 Caitlin and Lauren


I’m not ashamed to admit that rolling with males can sometimes be “interesting”, to say the least. It can sometimes be a tad bit awkward as well. Sometimes you may find yourself in “intimate” positions. There’s sweat, there’s heavy breathing, and there’s something extremely addictive about being able to let the most grisly parts of your nature come loose (and I mean the most grisly).

You would think that wrestling against someone attempting to hurt you, would be anything other than intoxicating. What is surprising however, is the ease at which our bodies are able to translate heightened adrenaline, into heightened curiosity (for lack of a better term).

I remember my first experience with this “curiosity”.

One evening, I was rolling with one of my teammates. I was struggling to better my position while he had been running the match. I managed to find an opportunity to escape from his side control and transition into bottom half guard. He pressed his weight on top of me, and moved his head to the side. I rolled, and he placed his head on the mat to base against my momentum. Now here we were, him on top of me, attempting to control my upper body by pinning my wrists; and the next thing I know, I’m turning my head to expose my neck.

My immediate thought was, “Why are you doing this?!” Then I realized it was a reaction that I’d had before, in a much, MUCH differently intimate situation…uggh. The very next moment my head was turned back, and I bridged to sweep into a different position, all the while cursing myself for having such an unprofessional moment.

But here is the deal guys, it happens. I know it happens for you boys too. Trust me, after my conversation last night, I’m not the only one who’s felt it (pun intended).

Typically I overlook things like this, and keep rolling like nothing had ever happened. After talking with Caitlin and her friends, I realized that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced this situation (in terms of the “animalistic” aspect of our sport). After chatting about it, I had found it riotously entertaining (and comforting) knowing that I was not the only one who had experienced such “momentary lapses of reasoning” which seemingly deviate from the professional path.

I’m normal! You are normal! We’re all normal! Yay!

Like I said it’s bound to happen, and through my rolling I’ve discovered a few things.

1) Yes, it’s normal to have these thoughts.
2) Yes, it’s possible to have them about those you are not attracted to (although it can be unsettling).
3) No, it doesn’t happen every time (it’s more rare than frequent).
4) But yes, when it does it’s one hundred percent OK.

As long as you follow a few rules…

A) It’s brief, and you make sure to maintain your professionalism.
B) You do not AT ANY TIME act on these thoughts.
C) You NEVER mention these urges to the person (although you boys unfortunately sometimes can’t hide it; try your best).
D) You ladies understand that sometimes, by the nature of the situation, that certain things can’t be hidden (believe me, the poor guy is already embarrassed as it is).

If you follow these rules, situations like these will easily pass into the realm of “things you can laugh about with your cohorts over a good meal”, and maybe even a few drinks.

Good luck! And keep on rollin’.


This blog post was written by Lauren LaCourse

Email: [email protected]

Facebook: Lauren’s Facebook